De-fragmenting disaster recovery
Mon 4 Apr 2016
Keeping a business running is one of the biggest challenges that both IT and business teams face. However, the pace of change around IT is causing problems for each team in different ways. For CEOs and business leaders, the move to more digital business activities rather than traditional channels is opening up new types and levels of risk for their enterprises, according to 77 per cent of those business leaders surveyed [PDF] by Gartner.
For the IT teams within these companies, this perception that risk is increasing can be useful – it can help support building the business case for business continuity and disaster recovery improvements. However, this can be difficult too.
Traditionally, business continuity management has been broken down into multiple areas around different areas of the enterprise’s IT infrastructure. The reason for this was simple – each set of servers running its own architecture and operating system would often need a different tool to protect them. What worked for servers running Intel chips and Windows would not be suitable for supporting the Linux boxes with AMD chipsets inside, for example.
Alongside this, business continuity has always been an expensive investment involving additional hardware, software licenses and one or more locations for them. Some applications and data would need a full recovery implementation dedicated to them, while others would have data backed up only. In the event of a failure, additional kit would have to be procured or hired, then recovery processes begun.
At the same time, the company would also need a full data archival plan as well, particularly if data sets included financial or personal information that had to be held for specific lengths of time to meet growing compliance and regulatory needs. The result of this was, for most organisations, that business continuity was often fragmented and expensive to run.
Evolution of cloud disaster recovery
Cloud computing has been suggested as a panacea for IT problems. While there are some options and scenarios where the benefits of cloud and existing on-premises deployments are less pronounced, cloud DR continues to evolve rapidly. The issues with fragmented planning and different hardware/software combinations that affect traditional DR strategies can and have been dealt with in the cloud, reducing the technical challenges that plagued previous implementations considerably.
Cloud DR can therefore have a significant impact on reducing the cost of business continuity implementations. While traditional implementations have to consider the cost of hardware, dedicated internal support staff and maintenance, cloud DR implementations can help IT teams avoid many of these costs. While both traditional and cloud DR implementations will require investment for customisation and training, cloud DR implementations could provide a cost saving of around 75 per cent according to research by Yankee Group.
Alongside this, cloud DR can help IT teams consolidate their approach to business continuity by cutting down or removing the need for specific software tools and hardware around each architectural platform that the company might have in place. Rather than running islands of protection for each set of servers, the DR strategy can consolidate all server and workloads capture all the necessary files, server images and workloads into one place.
Cloud DR can take a lot of the cost and complexity elements out of the equation.
Shifting to cloud does have some challenges for IT teams to consider. For example, the location of cloud services can be an issue for teams that have been used to running their DR strategies internally. However, public cloud providers like Amazon and Microsoft can provide data centre services that are located in specific countries when required. This can help with making sure that data is still controlled from a geographic centralised perspective, but data can also be stored based on consistent internal requirements as well, such as adhering to national and regional data protection legislation.
The formulation of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation has been a useful development – it has encouraged more IT teams to think about their DR and continuity strategies already, ahead of the measures coming into force in 2018. While this might seem like a long time, the fact is that the applications and data involved here are critical, so planning will have to take place alongside keeping existing services up and running.
However, public cloud infrastructures can ingest large volumes of data and scale up and down as customers require. Using object storage – as Amazon’s S3 does – means that the number of copies of files can be reduced as well, making the whole process more efficient.
This approach of using public cloud as a storage platform can also help with archiving as well. Rather than running separate DR, backup and archive tasks, cloud DR can automate some of the work-flow and management tasks around a single data source while still meeting the specific needs of each. For example, newly created data that might be needed for recovery purposes can be kept cached next to the production applications, while the cloud platform can support recovery as a service if there is a problem with the production systems too.
As this data ages, the chance of it being needed for an immediate fast restore will go down as well. For data more than 30 days old, a “warm” stand-by can be maintained in the cloud as a backup. After 90 days, this warm data can be shifted over to long-term cloud based cold storage for archiving. With Amazon, this can be delivered through a move from S3 to Glacier. However, the complex orchestration automation and management of this process is where the opportunity exists to deliver more value to the organisation as a whole.
For business leaders, business continuity has long been presented a difficult and challenging investment, driven either by industry regulation or by fear. Cloud DR can take a lot of the cost and complexity elements out of the equation. As cloud continues to rewrite the rules around IT over time, companies can benefit from shifting their DR strategies over to the cloud as well.